Rainy season winding down, water officials ramp up drought message

Just in case there is any confusion resulting from recent rain and the verdant spring landscape that has brightened the North Coast, here is some news from Sonoma County water officials: The drought is still on.

Reservoir levels are the highest they have been in months, and there is even a slight chance of rain this week, including Monday night, forecasters say.

But it doesn't change the reality, officials say. There still isn't enough water to justify inaction.

In a continuing bid to try to reach everyone in the North Bay with the water conservation message, the Sonoma County Water Agency, its municipal contractors and a handful of other partners are launching two initiatives this week intended to make it cheap and easy to obtain information and tools that might help.

First, on Wednesday, the partnering agencies will host 10 all-day "Drought Drive-Up" events around Sonoma County and northern Marin. Residents are invited to drive into one of the scattered locations, consult directly with a water-use expert and assemble a tool-kit of equipment they might need — from faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads, to shower timers and leak tests.

The agencies also are kicking off a series of four town hall meetings Wednesday in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Windsor and Petaluma — the last two scheduled for April 29 and April 30, respectively.

It's not that people aren't conserving. They are, though perhaps not yet at the 20 percent goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown in declaring a statewide drought emergency, area water department personnel said.

Santa Rosa's March use was about 15 percent lower than a year earlier, Santa Rosa utilities spokeswoman Elise Howard said. In Petaluma, demand for water was down about 13 percent from March 2013, said David Iribarne, the city's water conservation coordinator.

Windsor customers reduced water use by 17 percent from March 2013 to March of this year, said Toni Bertolaro, senior water resources engineer for the town.

But there's a tendency, when it rains, for what Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood calls "amnesia" about realities like 2013 being the driest year on record.

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